RAGE

Angry nerds.

When RAGE was announced a few years ago, the common consensus was that it was another big, dumb shooter (but this time with cars); another id Software game where the technology was in the driving seat and the game logic and creativity were riding double-barrelled shotgun.

As more cerebral shooters like BioShock and Deus Ex honed into view, those facts turned into worries. Were the Masters of DOOM being left behind?

The closer we get to release, however, the more RAGE - name aside, perhaps - resembles a grown-up id Software game. It's certainly not just a few ideas thrown at a Megatexture in the hope some will stick.

The single-player is big and brash, of course - a run-and-gun set in the aftermath of a Roland Emmerich special effects tornado - but it also boasts an interesting battlefield economy, various ways to customise your approach to combat and an impressive variety of locations and gameplay styles.

Today we're getting to hear about the multiplayer for the first time and also to see and play more of the single-player campaign, which we're told will clock in at somewhere between 15 and 20 hours.

Multiplayer, it turns out, is not your standard bounce-pads and rocket-launchers fare, but a mixture of vehicular combat and two-player co-op. The two halves are RAGE Combat Rally and Legends of the Wasteland, and both are examples of function following form.

The idea for Combat Rally came about when id was working on the single-player - the designers wanted to throw other people into cars and get involved with one another.

What they came up with is a bit like a cross between Quake 3 Arena and Smuggler's Run. There are dozens of little checkpoint markers scattered over the landscape and the game lights one up at a time. You and (currently) up to five opponents need to race to it to earn multipliers, and you gain points for kills along the way.

The 60fps gameplay means the vehicles look extremely manoeuvrable, and you have the expected array of weapons (mines, rockets, machineguns) and abilities (e-brake, boost, aerial controls). Vehicles take loads of damage, spouting flames, but can be repaired with healing items.

Pleasingly, for the moment the game uses the Quake voice ("YOU HAVE LOST THE LEAD") to call the action. Apparently id has retained the services of a real actor to record some alternative shouting, but internally there is great debate about whether to go with a new voice or stick with the old. (Stick with the old!) One oldie that definitely makes the cut is the quad damage power-up. Teehee.

The environment we see is a drained riverbed awash with hulking shipwrecks, criss-crossed by highways and sandwiched within canyon walls under a bleak grey-red sky.

Rage trailer ready to storm your screen

There are loads of gullies and there's plenty of verticality, and because the game's selection of the next active checkpoint is not linear - it actually has to do with where the current leader is pointing - the lead changes hands quite a lot. There seems to be a healthy mixture of skill and serendipity in match outcomes.

There will be at least five maps out of the box, and there are a few variations on the standard guns-and-checkpoints setup - team-based, obviously, plus chain rally (hit three rally points in succession for more points) and classic vehicle deathmatch without the checkpoints if you want that. You'll also be able to unlock better weapons, items and vehicles as you level up.

The other half of multiplayer is Legends of the Wasteland, and the idea here is to dramatise events described by characters in the single-player campaign. For example, at some stage you may hear about the time the Shrouded clan overran Wellspring and tried to blow up the water supply, and how a couple of brave souls went in to rout them. In the mission we see (there will be "at least" eight in total), we are those brave boys...

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